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You Can Do It, Too: The SUNY Fredonia Story

The SUNY Fredonia Story

By Caitlin Levesque, former student, SUNY Fredonia

SUNY Fredonia student volunteers get out the vote.

Two years ago, I was in the middle of my summer internship in Washington, D.C. at the same time Barack Obama became the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 Presidential election. It was at that moment, being in D.C., that I realized State University of New York (SUNY) Fredonia students needed to capitalize on this historic opportunity to become civically engaged; and I would be their cheerleader.

There were several obstacles that stood in my way: low voter turnout rate in the past, lack of interest in political issues and elections, high dissatisfaction with the government, and most importantly, an underlying sense of disenfranchisement amongst youth voters.

How we did it!

So, how did SUNY Fredonia register 1,065 new voters and have an 88% turnout rate on November 4th, 2008? I quickly realized that I was unable to transform our students’ perception on my own, and began to use my relationships with professors, student groups and, most importantly, my friends to help implement this non-partisan campaign. By weekly tabling, knocking on dorm room doors, invading classrooms, hosting open mic nights, and causing quite a ruckus, our team registered over a thousand students in just under five weeks.

Getting Students to the Polls

Then the biggest struggle began: how do we get these registered voters to the

Teach-in that helped students learn more about the issues on the ballot.

polls? By connecting with our local TV and radio stations, as well as newspapers we were able to put out ads that told students exactly where to go and when. Realizing how detrimental it would be to have a group of uninformed first-time voters heading to the polls, we decided to work with several students with expertise in the economy, environment, and foreign policy fields to develop three teach-ins discussing these areas.  Total turnout at these events exceeded 200 students.  Next we began to focus our time and

Uncle Sam and Abe Lincoln are enlisted to help get out the vote.

energy on planning for Election Day. From chalking polling information all over our campus’ concrete, to hanging banners directing people where to go to vote, to enlisting our own “Abe Lincoln” and “Uncle Sam” to invade dining halls, libraries and classrooms, we transformed the SUNY Fredonia campus. We were able to engage students and volunteers who finally understood the issues and saw the importance of young voter participation in the election. Most importantly, our efforts helped to flip our county from red to blue, putting Fredonia on the electoral map like never before.

What can you do?

In order to replicate SUNY Fredonia’s success, we need to advocate for strong civic programs in our colleges.  Studies show that first time voters make lifetime voters.  By advocating for youth turnout in and around campuses across our country for the 2010 Midterm elections, we can create a voter bloc that will be influential in the 2012 election and beyond. By understanding your audience, and educating yourself on issues that students can relate to; we can create a citizenry of youth voters and help keep our country on track.

If you’re looking for a way to get started on connecting with like-minded young people helping to promote civic engagement, check out some of these sites:

  • Civic Youth offers a wide range of statistics as well as State Election Laws
  • Rock the Vote allows student leaders to download toolkits to help start a voter registration campaign
  • On The Issues is a necessary tool If you are trying to inform your new voters on key issues that will encourage them to get to the polls
6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great story! Hopefully we can get every college campus in this country to follow this model one day 🙂


    July 20, 2010
  2. Awesome story! It sounds like you all worked hard, and I can’t believe you flipped the county. Definitely an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing.


    July 20, 2010
  3. Derek deGraad #

    Wow, awesome! As a Fredonia alumni I remember how fun and inspiring it was to be immersed in what was going on there during the 2008 election season. Kids were passionate about the issues and over a thousand students became first time voters–awesome memories. Great article Caitlin, keep ’em coming!


    July 21, 2010
  4. Pat Rossi #

    Hey Caitlin great article, I remember at that time I was just another unregistered college student with no interest in the election. However all that changed when you helped create such a huge buzz around campus about the election, and informed so many of us on the issues surrounding the candidates. Thanks so much for keeping myself and others like me informed and interested during the 2008 election. Keep up the good work!


    July 21, 2010
  5. carey #

    As a parent of a Fredonia alumni, I remember hearing all about the election campaigns going on… both local and the presidential. I was impressed by the activities surrounding education on the issues as well as registering the votes. It brought back forgotten memories of my first time voting, and the belief that my vote made a differnce. Thank you for that!


    July 21, 2010
  6. J Raymo #

    Such an amazing story to hear! Very Inspiring!


    July 22, 2010

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